A Year of Change

2021 has been a year of much change both personally and professionally, I’ve started a new job, progressed decorating my house and gained a brother-in-law following my sisters wedding.

Sitting down to write this made me realise how boring the start of 2021 was and how bad my mental health was at this time compared to the second half of 2021 where lots of things were happening and I made a few decisions that definitely were for the best personally and professionally.

Back to January 2021, the Christmas ‘vacation’ - really lockdown, was slightly over and I was back to work, working on the same annoying piece of work as I was before Christmas. It’s definitely a frustration to not really finish a piece of work and have it lingering on for months on end, especially over a ‘new year’. I also realised, much later than I should have, what an effect spending Christmas alone at home had on me, the depression was much worse than usual and made the days before, during and after Christmas a real struggle. I was definitely sleeping more than usual, and I already spend a lot of time sleeping. Thankfully I’d managed to get hold of a PS5, thanks to my now brother-in-law, and was able to keep distracted by spending way too much time on this.

January through to March were much of the same, working on the same projects and dealing with the same frustrations from work, this really didn’t help the depression even with medication. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much help from work at the time to make changes to what I was working on besides ‘is there anyone else that can help with it’. This would be great if I wasn’t the institutional expert on Kubernetes, AWS and the product we were integrating with so everyone came to me with questions about these.

It was at this time I applied for a developer role that I wasn’t really qualified for just to see where I was, surprisingly I got a first and second interview with the company but I was unsuccessful. After speaking to a few people It came out that the company had a bad habit of interviewing UK candidates, non of whom were ‘suitable’, then outsourcing the development to India.

This left me with very mixed feelings about my skillset and led to me re-investing in my HomeLab to try and gain some further skills and certifications to justify skills I already knew I had. See my new HomeLab blog for why I have one and what I’ve been doing with it (note: posts coming soon). Once again the feelings of not being good enough and a bit down flared up.

With lockdowns finally over and everyone able to get out I was both excited that I could leave the house but also incredibly anxious about going where anyone was, social anxiety + COVID-19 is not a a great combination. However, my mam decided that she wanted a few days away and decided to visit to help decorate the house, It was really nice to finally be able to see her in person given we missed out at Christmas, opening Christmas presents over FaceTime is not the same. As is usual when ever anyones parents visit there were many disagreements over how to decorate the house and how much ‘work’, or lack of, I was doing on my days off. I really like relaxing and not doing anything too stressful or taxing on my non-work days, who doesn’t? Thankfully these disagreements were minor and we were able to get nearly the whole downstairs painted and ready to add shelving etc, which I managed to put up a few months later, apparently I have expensive tastes.

Summer arriving meant we were finally able to celebrate my sisters wedding in Grange-over-Sands, delayed by a year due to COVID-19. This was a great weekend catching up with family and friends some I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years. We had a great time partying the night (and morning away), who knew they could put over 80 hair pins in one persons hair.

Although my nana decided not to attend my sisters wedding for personal reasons, it was really nice to see her reaction when my sister and brother in law surprised her a couple of days later in their wedding dress/suit and took some pictures. This made me realise given the past 18 months I needed to spend more time with family and take a break from being stuck in my house at Lancaster.

1 week of work later and I was ready for my last minute 2 week holiday staying at my nana’s and doing some work on her rather large garden. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and I spent half the time indoors keeping dry from the heavy rain, August really was a mixed month for weather. Whilst I didn’t get as much done outside as I would have liked I did manage to clean up a ‘small’ area and have a lot of time to think about where I wanted to go with my career. Not having to worry about work for 2 weeks and taking a break was really what I needed given I hadn’t really had time to take any leave earlier in the year due to work priorities.

Heading back to Lancaster I finally made up my mind on looking for a new job and given the salary ranges offered in Higher Education it was clear that I was going to have to expand my search, thankfully senior software engineering roles are everywhere now. After speaking to lots of companies and recruiters I realised my skills were in high demand and many companies were looking to make generous offers and allow full work from home which was much appreciated for myself. Of all the companies I engaged with Talis definitely stood out, in less than one week from application I’d gone through all the stages of their interview process and was sitting on an offer that was very much what I was looking for. The company developing products for a sector I already had a lot of experience in, Higher Education, was a bonus and from the interviews and discussions with my future colleagues it was quite clear to me that this would be a great move.

There’s lots I could say on my search for a new job, both good and bad, what stands out though is the differences between companies and their recruitment process. Whilst most had a pretty standard submit CV and covering letter as well as completing a coding task, others had various stages, calls and discussions that at times I wasn’t sure if they were helping me or them make a decision. One thing that stood out though was companies accepting applications via LinkedIn and then getting in touch up to 3 weeks later saying please fill in these application forms, in all cases this was the exact same information from the LinkedIn process and was very off-putting for a potential candidate. Thankfully I didn’t have any of these problems with Talis and the process was actually quite well thought out, having everything but the initial screening and offer call take place within one call really helped plan out my time and made it easy to ask questions to a range of different people at once.

Holding an offer for a Senior Software Developer role at Talis led to a couple of interesting, yet short, conversations with my managers at Lancaster University, although trying to get time to speak to them initially saw some resistance of ‘other important meetings’ until I pushed for this. Whilst my managers were sad to see me leave they ultimately understood why I was leaving and given the nature of the products developed by Talis all were encouraging of the move saying they thought it would be a great move and opportunity for me; although it did take a while for some colleagues to understand how a company could be fully remote and have no physical office, I put this down to the ‘in the office’ culture within Higher Education. Trust of your employees is such a big and important thing to get right and very few companies seem to nail this, so far Talis have this correct and I wish Higher Education was more trusting of its staff to actually do their work without meetings, project boards and reports.

Fast forward a month and given my annual leave left to take I was in my final 4 weeks of working at Lancaster University, somewhere I’d been for nearly 10 years as a student and staff member. There was lots going on in my head at this time, many different emotions and lots to think about but I was still sure I had made the right decision. These final few weeks were covered with handover meetings, nearly 4-5 hours each day of Teams calls and by the end of it I was lucky if I could speak without coughing. I put this down to a difficulty to document and share knowledge with team members due to siloed working and everything being a priority to work on, something that I saw as needing a lot of improvement.

October ending brought about my last few days at Lancaster University and I was ready for the week off before starting at Talis, this provided a great opportunity to decompress and get some boring things sorted around the house. It was nice to have a week where I didn’t have to worry about anything besides what was I going to cook for myself that week, yes I finally got back into the kitchen and cooked something from scratch that wasn’t just reheated or a takeaway. Having nothing planned for a week meant I spent a bit too much time playing video games, mainly Satisfactory (update 5 coming out was timed perfectly on early access), lets ignore the growing steam library of games I’ve got to play.

My week of gaming over and it was time for my first day at Talis, lots of different feelings including being anxious and nervous but also excited for what the new role would bring and meeting my new team and colleagues. The first week went by rather quickly, lots of intro’s to different teams and people, it really helped having a buddy on my team to help me get started and work on my first few tasks and understand the practical applications of the engineering teams development handbook. My second week had an eventful start with my work MacBook Pro constantly rebooting, later diagnosed as a faulty memory module, and a trip to the Apple Store to pick up a new one. I wouldn’t get that kind of turn around (same day) at my previous employer for a new laptop, productivity is very important. Thankfully my team lead and our CTO reassured me that it wasn’t anything I’d done and not to worry, the anxiety didn’t help here, one week in and I’d already broken something, great way to start.

The next 6 weeks were very well planned and lots of tasks for me to work on, they weren’t always the easiest but it was really great for me to be able to get stuck in and work on something that, whilst not an immediate priority, was affecting production and how a core service was deployed.

Right before our Christmas vacation brought the Log4J CVEs which meant lots of work in my team to patch services (thankfully only one) and then a task of rotating credentials something we realised needed to be documented further. Whilst I wasn’t much help on my own being able to pair with different people in my team really helped me understand the different services that we maintain and how they link with the products developed by the other 2 teams.

With everything going well something had to give, and unsurprisingly COVID-19 sought to this. The Talis Christmas Party and away day was planned for the middle of December before Christmas and would have been the first time I’d seen any of my colleagues in person instead of behind a screen. But with the case numbers rising it was decided to cancel this event and have an online day of quiz’s and activities instead, whilst part of my was a bit disheartened by this I completely agreed it was the right decision to make. With many of use spending Christmas last year away from family and friends catching COVID and having to isolate over Christmas alone wouldn’t have been fun at all.

I was really grateful that Talis have such a great leave policy that meant I could take time off over Christmas to see family and friends and wasn’t stuck with a small number of days that I’d accrued since starting to take. Unfortunately this was the story with some friends who’d also started new jobs recently and its not helpful when you’re just starting a new job so close to the end of a leave year and don’t always have a good handle on the work you should or need to be doing so you just have a ‘keeping busy’ day.

With no further announcements of COVID-19 restrictions in England, and a few lateral flow tests later, I was finally able to enjoy my Christmas break seeing my sisters, nana and other family, it was such a nice end to what has been a turbulent year for me. Here’s hoping 2022 is a lot better and I can get out and about with more certainty, I’m sure from the short time I’ve been at Talis that the start of 2022 is going to be great professionally, now lets hope 2022 lives up to it personally.

Expect more posts in the future about my new role at Talis, mental health and interesting things related to technology and software development as I strive to write more, a promise I’ve never kept to myself.